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SubRosa : For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages

SubRosa return with their most Doom-oriented album to date, which proves to be yet another masterpiece.

It has been three years since the release of SubRosaís last opus More Constant Than The Gods, an album which I praised highly at the time. Revisiting it in preparation for this review, I still stand by my opinion: it has not lost any of its charm and still proves that the band from Salt Lake City, Utah, play in the top league of the contemporary scene with an artistic vision that is genuinely their own. It is always challenging for bands to maintain such a high level of quality, so when approaching the follow-up to such a masterpiece both as a music lover and a reviewer, I tend to be cautious. In this case, however, I was relieved to find that SubRosa outdid themselves once more with 'For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages'.

As suggested by the long playing time and limited number of tracks, the new album continues the direction of its predecessor Ė the long songs slowly unfold their emotional depth without much in the way of dynamic outbursts to distract from the atmosphere. Once again, however, a closer look reveals that the bandís sound has by no means stagnated. You will recognise the album as a typical SubRosa record right from the start but also discover it has an identity of its own.

The most conspicuous development is that the music has become more overtly doomy. On a purely structural level, you will find less of the Rock-oriented riffing reminiscent of The River on this album: it is still present, but on many occasions has been replaced by very slow sections with drawn-out guitar chords and plodding drums which are more in the vein of Ďtypicalí (Extreme) Doom than anything the band has released so far. This tendency is first introduced at the end of the opener 'Despair Is A Siren', a spellbinding paragon of what Doom Metal has to offer as a genre. The last two tracks even maintain this style throughout most of their playing time, giving the album as a whole a surprisingly hopeless note.

But even in its straighter moments, the albumís dense atmosphere is considerably more pessimistic than the previous output of the band, mirroring the dark lyrics inspired by Yevgeny Zamayatinís dystopian novel ďWeĒ. Admittedly, Iím only familiar with the book by reputation, but 'For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages' made me want to read it as soon as possible.

Musically, SubRosa certainly know their craft and have honed their skills even further, allowing for refined arrangements and impeccable performances which bring the atmospheric potential to fruition. The crunchy, droning sound of Rebecca Vernonís simple and effective rhythm guitar is pretty much the last remaining link to the bandís Stoner roots. Andy Pattersonís to-the-point drumming has evolved further, adding just the right amount of dynamics and punch where needed. And discussing the rhythm section, I would like to highlight the new bassist Levi Hanna, who is a welcome addition to the line-up: this time the bass is more prominent both in the arrangements and the mix, adding to the overall complexity and rewarding close listening.

The most unique trademark of the band, however, is arguably their clever replacement of lead guitars by two electric violins (played by Sarah Pendleton and Kim Pack). They sound as distant and ghostly as ever and have been composed so carefully that they become indispensable in the creation of the atmosphere. Often mournful or desolate, and sometimes downright eerie, they permeate the songs like ever-changing wafts of mist. What is more, with occasional pizzicato and tremolo sections the violinists are exploring their instrumentís scope of expression more thoroughly. Such details help set the songs apart from each other and, alongside a few guest appearances or the short stripped-down song 'Il Cappio', keep things interesting across the fairly long playing time. Vocal-wise, too, the arrangements have become more complex and diverse with no less than four band members plus a guest singer contributing to harmonies (sometimes reminiscent of US minimalists Low), choirs, dialogue-like passages and occasional backing growls, all of which are used in a clever way without cluttering the music.

If I had to find fault with 'For This We Fought The Battle Of Ages', it would be that some of the songs are more clearly structured into discreet, apparently unrelated sections compared to earlier releases, which can compromise the organic flow of the music somewhat. After a couple of spins, the arrangements sink in and work nicely, though; only 'Black Majesty' retains a slight sense of inconsistency (hence my rating just below the top mark) but makes up for it with the sheer brilliance of its individual parts.

All of the above is presented through the finely balanced prism of a top-notch production which calls for a good pair of headphones to be fully appreciated. The artwork, too, is excellent once again and remains faithful to the style established on the previous two albums. Thus as a bottom line, SubRosa deliver a damn-near perfect album that will be hard to outmatch even by the strongest bands in the scene. And let me add on a rather personal note that 'Killing Rapture' alone makes this a must-have, being the most touching piece of music Iíve heard in a long time.

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Reviewer's rating: 9.5/10


Tracklist :
1. Despair Is A Siren
2. Wound Of The Warden
3. Black Majesty
4. Il Cappio
5. Killing Rapture
6. Troubled Cells

Duration : Approx. 64 minutes

Visit the SubRosa bandpage.

Reviewed on 2016-09-25 by Dominik Sonders
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